You’re stumped, stuck, and frustrated. You have a sticky problem, and you could use some good advice. So who do you call for help?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Asking Advice From Friends
- Tips for Asking Advice From Family
- Tips for Asking Advice From Colleagues
That answer depends on what you need. Are you having trouble with a work situation? Ask a colleague for help. Need advice on child-rearing? Maybe a friend or family member is a better choice. Chances are you’ll need advice on many topics throughout your life.
This guide can help you identify who to ask, what to say, and what to do with their ideas.
Tips for Asking Advice From Friends
True friendships are there through thick and thin. But not all friends can give you the advice you need. Use the following tips to help you approach the right person and get the most out of your conversation.
1. Choose the right person to ask
You know the specific friends you’d ask for cooking tips, financial guidance, and relationship advice. In other words, don’t ask just anyone to help with your situation. Approach the person with the best background in what you need to know. Also, consider other personal qualities such as:
- How well you know each other
- Their willingness to discuss your topic
- Their honesty with you
- Their genuine interest in being helpful
2. Be clear about what you want
Be clear about the advice you need. Prepare your comments before you ask for help with plenty of details. A long rambling story may be fun to tell, but your friend may get distracted and confused. The point is to get some advice by the end of the conversation.
Don’t make your friend put the clues together on their own. Here are a few ideas for getting more focused:
- Give some background and context to your question
- Prioritize the important information
- Ask a specific question
- Mentally rehearse what you’ll say to keep it focused and short enough to digest
3. Understand your friend’s bias
When you ask a friend for advice, it comes through their personal filter. No matter how kind and respectful your friend is, their viewpoint isn’t exactly like yours. Empathy and listening can be helpful, but your friend will tailor any advice they give to their perspective.
Does this mean that asking advice is pointless? Not at all. The differences in their viewpoint are valuable and can open your eyes to new ideas. But you need to do your own thinking as well. Don’t blindly do what your friend says, even if it is all given with the best intention. Make sure each suggestion aligns with your beliefs and values before taking any action.
4. You may get advice you weren’t expecting
Sometimes discussing one topic can lead you down an unexpected path. This can be a good thing and doesn’t mean you’re off-base. Talking out loud with someone can lead you to topics you might not think about most of the time.
An honest discussion with a supportive friend can help you get to the meat of your problem. If your conversation took a surprise turn, don’t dismiss your friend’s advice. Think it over and let your thoughts simmer for a while. Sometimes the most useful advice can be the kind you don’t see coming.
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Tips for Asking Advice From Family
Family relationships can be supportive, but not everyone can give helpful advice. And sometimes, family dynamics and emotional ties can make seeking advice tricky. This section will help you understand how to approach family members and get the help you need.
5. Know that family dynamics can make things tricky
When you ask advice from someone in your community, your first concerns might be their area of knowledge and how easy they are to talk with. Because they are looking at your life from the outside, your relationship can be fairly neutral. Asking for advice within your family changes the picture by introducing family dynamics.
Family dynamics are the behaviors, emotions, and communication patterns that connect each member of a family. They set the expectations within a relationship and affect how close you feel to a family member. Consider your attachment and loyalty when you ask family members for guidance. A positive relationship may not qualify a family member as a good source of advice. In families where loyalty is valued, asking the wrong person can set off a chain reaction of disapproval from others.
Here are a few examples to show this better:
- It’s so easy to talk with your cousin Mary, and you’ve known her your whole life. She has a long history of being in debt, but talks a good game about her financial situation and always sounds confident. You may be tempted to ask her for advice about handling money because you enjoy her company, but this would be a mistake.
- Your uncle Paul has been a financial advisor in your community for 30 years. He has lots of experience helping others handle their money. However, he has privately had some trouble with excessive drinking and has had conflict with some family members. You like him, but you aren’t sure you could trust his judgment.
6. Consider positive and negative bias
Family member bias can be even more potent than a friend’s bias. Being part of a family stretches from the beginning to the end of a person’s lifetime. With those connections often come expectations, hopes, and responsibilities. Family members can pass down both positive and negative patterns through the generations. All of these experiences create biases in every family member that can skew the advice they may give.
Depending on your situation, getting well-rounded advice from family members could be a challenge. Even a family member with a balanced outlook will automatically have some bias in their viewpoint. This bias can be a good thing. We want to look out for our family members, and a group identity helps everyone feel like they belong.
Bias helps make up some of our family culture and can be a way to encourage positive expectations. For example, some families expect everyone to graduate from high school and go on to a higher level of education. Other families expect their children to live close to their family of origin after they leave their home.
However, anyone who takes a different path goes against the grain of family culture. In more open-minded families, this can be acceptable. But in other families, a person going in a different direction may be labeled an outsider or a black sheep.
These biases can affect the advice they may give you, sometimes making their guidance harmful. These examples show how overly positive and overly negative biases can color a family member’s advice.
Positive bias: Rose-colored glasses
- Advice: Suggesting a student major in a science field because it pays well, and the student is smart like their siblings.
- Reality: This student only got average grades in science classes, and they are more skilled in other areas.
- Advice: Urging a person to take an expensive trip to try out for a national singing talent show because musical talent runs in the family.
- Reality: The person enjoys singing, but has no recognition for outstanding singing talent by anyone with authority or experience.
Negative bias: Gray-clouded glasses
- Advice: Advising a student to avoid college because it’s better to get a job right out of high school like everybody else in the family.
- Reality: The college degree would prepare the student for a career that will pay well, and they have the grades to succeed in higher education.
- Advice: Discouraging a young person to take a new job because it’s better to stick it out and show loyalty.
- Reality: The person’s job doesn’t pay well, and the work environment is unsupportive. Better paying jobs are available, and the person sought advice about choosing one.
Tips for Asking Advice From Colleagues
Your work environment can be an opportunity to meet a variety of people. If you want to ask colleagues for advice, consider these tips for respectfully asking for the help you need.
7. Do your homework first
Do what you can to solve the problem on your own. Coworkers will be less likely to help in the future if you don’t try some simple methods first.
Let them know what you’ve done so far and where you got stuck. By doing this preparation, you show yourself as a motivated person who needs just help getting past a roadblock. Everyone has work on their plate, so being prepared makes your request more efficient and easier to handle.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask
You may feel like asking for help makes you look incompetent or defeated. But wasting time on a problem that could easily be solved with some help isn’t the best approach either.
Do your homework as suggested above, but don’t let the problem drag on for too long. Dust off your pride and ask for help. Be persistent, but understand that it’s better to stop going at it alone at some point and rely on teamwork to get the job done.
9. Ask your coworker out to lunch
Ask your coworker to join you for lunch and let them know you could use their input on something. If you can afford it, you could also offer to pay, but this isn’t necessary.
This approach creates positive vibes in several ways. You and your coworker get to socialize, get out of your usual lunchtime rut, and can have a one-on-one conversation. Even if your coworker can’t commit to a full lunch hour, you may be able to swing a coffee break.
The Art of Asking for Advice
Some problems are too difficult to tackle alone. You need to know how to lean on other people’s wisdom and knowledge sometimes. Whether you seek advice from friends, family, or colleagues, the time and experience they share are true gifts.
- Goodman, Michelle. “The Right Way to Ask for Career Advice.” Professionals & Continuing Education, May 29, 2015, www.pce.uw.edu/news-features/articles/right-way-to-ask-for-career-advice
- Goldstein, Meredith. “How To Give Advice: Less Fixing, More Listening.” NPR, February 25, 2020, www.npr.org/2020/02/24/808811358/how-to-give-advice-less-fixing-more-listening